How do I help my child smooth out a bumpy school transition?
If your student is having a hard time after a change of schools or at school, help ease the transition with these tips:
- Draw and post a visual morning routine and checklist, include prep for what to expect at school
- Create a special send off – a positive note, special snack or even a gesture as they head out the door.
- Plan playtime or outing that they can look forward to
- Make time after school to talk about the day – name it age appropriate (i.e. bunny or dragon moments)
Seeing the signals for worries about school
Whether starting a new school, leveling up in grades or a shift in staff – kids of all ages express worry about changes through their behaviors and actions.
These worries may show up in physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, or sleep troubles. You may also see new behaviors or changes in temperament
Spotting and stepping in to help support a child’s mental health will set them up to learn and grow at school.
What to do?
It is important to help your child know and believe:
- All of their feelings are real and valid
- It’s ok to talk about what’s going on
- You are there to help them get through it
Try and get a child to:
- Name the feeling: sad, worry, mad, afraid, sleepy, confused…
- Name the source or starting point: It might be about people (staff or peers), places (bus, playground, classroom) or things (sounds, lighting, seating).
- Think about ways to plan for those moments when it gets hard.
For instance, if they worry about:
- Getting lost in a new building–print off a map or ask school for one and make a visual plan that they can carry daily.
- Being separated from you–tuck a note in a pocket, dab your scent on their wrist.
- Note from our team: one parent sent a kiddo off to school with a code word “spaghetti” that he could whisper under his breath to remind him of support. Another kiddo was touched by a book character and every morning as he boarded the bus, the caregiver would whisper a supportive word from “Chester”.
- Having to sit alone in the cafeteria or not finding friends–be curious and ask what they’ve tried or where it’s been hard – you may be able to help problem solve or ask school staff to support a plan.
The following tips can help increase the success and reduce the stress of transitioning to a school in fall or after longer breaks:
- A week or two before school, slowly shift bedtime in 15-minute increments to ideal school bedtime. Early mornings can be hard after a summer of sleeping in or staying up late. Children can deal better with stress and change when they are well-rested.
- Prepare school supplies in advance and let your child help with the prep as appropriate for their age whether labeling, packing backpack. Use the time to talk about their feelings about school.
- Participate in school-sponsored events, conferences and tours to get familiar with staff and spaces so you can support your child.
- Before school starts, visit the site and identify their classroom(s), gym, cafeteria, nurses office and other spaces to help ease fear and make a plan.
- If your child is especially anxious about the first day, ask if you can create a high-touch handoff with the staff the first morning. This could minimize “unknowns”.
- If your child is transitioning between school levels (elementary to middle or middle to high), help prepare by talking about things that may be different: spaces, people, homework, lockers, moving between classrooms or having more than one teacher.
- Once school starts, check in with your child about their day to find out what is going well and what is hard. Use open-ended questions such as, “Tell me about the most exciting thing you did today.” instead of “How was your day?”
- Show an interest in what your child is learning in the classroom and be a sounding board as they work through school work and new friendships.
- If your child struggles to make new friends, consider enrolling them in extracurricular activities, which can help release stress, build self-confidence, and meet others. Also, ask school staff if they are familiar with any community-based social skills groups.
- If your concern is about social, emotional, or behavioral development, talk with your child’s teachers and school counselors about what they are seeing. Together you can create a plan to meet your child where they are with educational support, therapy or other supports. Children who receive early intervention are more likely to stay on track at school and in life